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'It's not a burden': How TikTok dance creators push for recognition, career opportunities with each post

·7 min read

LOS ANGELES – Tay Marquise discovered TikTok as he sat across from his friend who was scrolling through videos.

Marquise downloaded the app in 2019. Little did he know that he would climb to TikTok popularity himself. His "Clap For ’Em" dance challenge accumulated millions of views and hundreds of thousands of likes.

Choreographers and dance creators have discovered that TikTok is more than just for trendy videos. It's critical to their success.

TikTok offers dance makers the chance to be seen by brands, musical artists and agents who could provide their next performance opportunity for their career. Unlike YouTube and Instagram, on TikTok, everyone has the ability to be discovered through the For You page.

With online fame comes challenges, especially for Black creators chasing credit. At stake are potential followers that could make their online platform a full-time career.

"People want any idea to be credited towards them, not out of spite or aggression or anything," Marquise said. "It's because we know now that TikTok creates so many opportunities."

Understanding how TikTok ticks and the issue of dance credit

TikTok rose to popularity over the years, becoming a common social media application throughout the pandemic. In July, TikTok became the first non-Facebook mobile app to reach 3 billion total downloads globally, Sensor Tower reported.

Many dance creators point to Jalaiah Harmon's "Renegade" dance challenge as the origin of what altered the culture of TikTok and users' awareness of providing dance credit. After Charli D'Amelio attracted the attention of millions by re-creating Harmon’s choreography, the dancer sought recognition.

Harmon originally posted the dance on Instagram. In October 2019, a creator by the handle @global.jones brought the video to TikTok, where it was re-created over and over again with no credit given to Harmon. It wasn’t until February 2020 that Harmon made headlines and TikTok creators realized the importance of attributing work.

When Marquise posted his own dance, some large creators ignored him because he is a comparatively small creator with almost 400,000 followers.

"I feel like now that people are aware, they should just do it and get it out of the way," Marquise said. "It's not a burden."

After receiving little to no credit for dances that receive love from millions, Black creators decided to stop creating dance challenges.

In June, Black TikTok creators collectively went on strike. One of the first videos to introduce the strike was by Erick Louis who prepared to dance to Megan Thee Stallion's new single "Thot S---," only to step away, posting the caption "SIKE. THIS APP WOULD BE NOTHING WITHOUT BLK PEOPLE."

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Since the strike began, some strides have been made. JaQuel Knight, the choreographer behind some of Beyoncé's and Megan Thee Stallion's popular dances, partnered with Logitech to help 10 dance creators copyright their viral dances through his foundation, according to a news release.

Each instance when creators with a larger following fail to tag originators in their post is possibly a lost opportunity and a new slew of followers. Though dance credit is becoming common practice for creators, TikTok’s past still holds weight for today’s popular dance creators.

William Horne danced to a remix of Megan Thee Stallion’s "Cash S---" in October 2019 in his University of Michigan bathroom. He did it for fun during his break in between classes.

William Horne, creator of dance challenges, says he didn't receive credit on TikTok.
William Horne, creator of dance challenges, says he didn't receive credit on TikTok.

Soon, the dance went viral, and big TikTok creators D’Amelio and Addison Rae were re-creating it. No credit was given.

"People deserve to be seen for what they create," Horne said. "They took their time out of the day to create that, they deserve to be seen for that."

Horne said some people didn’t believe him when he said he created the trend, among others that went viral in 2019. People credited Tony and Ondreaz Lopez, two members of the Hype House, a content creator collective, who have about 20 million followers each.

"They're gaining this big of a platform, and they didn't create the trend at all," TikTok user Kamron Agee said. “It's a huge blow to us because it’s like, ‘So I guess we don't exist type of thing,’ or ‘They don't really care about who creates stuff.’”

Even when creators do get recognition, it is sometimes too late. The larger creators reaped the social and monetary benefits, ranging from sponsorships to views.

"It’s always later on when it's too late when the trend is about over when everybody figures out who the original creator is,” Agee said.

Kamron Agee, who creates dance challenges on TikTok, says credit for trends sometimes goes to the wrong person.
Kamron Agee, who creates dance challenges on TikTok, says credit for trends sometimes goes to the wrong person.

Kara Leigh Cannella, creator of the "Batman" and "HOOPLA" dance challenges, realized early on that the lack of credit on TikTok is just the way it is for small creators. She said that as a creator grows, more fans and followers will provide support and ensure that if a dance comes up on their For You page, it has the proper name on it. Until that following grows, a lot of videos will go uncredited.

"Sadly, I feel like it's something that you have to go through, especially as a small creator," she said.

Cannella said people don’t understand the weight a credit line has for creatives. For her, she said, it’s great that people like her dancing enough to make their own video, and she realizes they don't mean any harm by not crediting. But for other dancers on TikTok, attribution is important to their career.

“It's not necessarily stealing, but it's plagiarizing someone's choreography," she said. "And I don't think people really understand that, that someone could get credit for using someone else's work, and I think it's just so important because it connects the artists with the choreographer."

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The make-or-break dance credit

For dance creators, their credit on the video that gets more eyes on it is pivotal to growing as an artist on the app. Interactions, which include likes, comments and shares, determine what videos trend and show up on more screens.

Johanna Blakley, managing director and director of research at the Norman Lear Center, said TikTok is another contributor to the "sharing economy."

"It really urges people to contribute in a way that you don't necessarily see on Instagram or YouTube – it's made much simpler," Blakley said. "It's in the DNA to copy and to respond to creative content that's posted on the platform."

Creatives on TikTok post despite the possibility of copying because interactions build up their reputation.

"There are plenty of industries where they take a look at your social media presence in order to figure out what your value is to their company," Blakley said. "And certainly, it's the case with influencers where the number of followers you have is equivalent to the amount of money you're going to make when you start promoting certain products."

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Dancers, TikTok and branding

Dancers have become household names through videos on YouTube and Instagram. The difference is that TikTok offers new opportunities for branding.

Marienor Madrilejo, a Los Angeles-based talent agent at A3 Artists Agency, said TikTok has democratized social media, offering anyone the opportunity to create a brand for themselves. Companies and brands look to creators to market their work to the point that TikTok has become an economic powerhouse. Dancers will choreograph with a product, brand or musician.

Howard Johnson, a professional dancer and TikTok creator based in LA, noticed the various opportunities the app made available during the pandemic. He, along with many other dancers, turned to TikTok to keep creating and allow audiences to know more about who they are beyond the stage.

"(Professional dancers) are a part of it now because they see that it's not just about being famous or just showing dances to try to get famous," Johnson said. "I think it's more than that. I think it has to do with growing yourself and your brand."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: TikTok dance creators seek recognition and legal credit with each post

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